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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Workplace: Coping with a Difficult Boss

At some point in your career, unless you're very lucky, you will probably have to deal with a difficult boss. Knowing how to deal with a difficult boss is essential to your well being and the future of your career.

Coping With a Difficult Boss

In this post, I'll consider certain types of bosses that most people would describe as "difficult" and provide some suggestions that you might find helpful. Since there are so many different kinds of difficult bosses, I'm sure I won't cover everything, and your comments are valuable so that I can include more information in the future.

It's also important that, since no one can truly understand a situation with a difficult boss unless you're in it, just like anything else, you need to use your judgement about your particular situation as to whether my recommendations would work for you.

Let's start out with certain premises. First, it's important to understand that one person's opinion about a boss might be very different than another's, so that what you might consider to be "difficult" others might find appealing. Second, it's possible, as hard as this might sound, that your difficult boss might actually think that he or she is doing a very good job. Your boss might lack any kind of self awareness about his or her behavior. Also, it's possible that this behavior might actually be encouraged by his superiors. The other factor to consider is whether or not you're contributing to the situation by your own behavior. This is an especially difficult thing to acknowledge. So, you need to look at your own behavior in the situation and be honest with yourself about your role in the situation and how you might need to change yourself in order to change the situation.

What is a Difficult Boss?
As previously stated, one person's idea of a difficult boss might be the ideal for someone else. It can be very subjective. However, here's a few of the most common "difficult boss" categories that I usually hear about in my office. Recognize that, for simplicity's sake, these are stereotypes. People are more complex than stereotypes and, to a certain extent, what you're dealing with might be different or a combination of several "types."

The Micromanager
The micromanager usually likes to feel in control of the most mundane aspects of a project. Often, he or she is insecure and cannot allow competent staff to carry out their duties without having staff constantly coming back to him or her at every step of the way to get approval. He or she can bog down projects with unnecessary meetings, sign offs, telephone calls, and other time wasters and, generally, annoy the staff with his or her need to oversee every little detail.

The Mircomanager

The Hands Off manager
The hands off manager is just the opposite of the micromanager. He or she is usually disengaged from the work and the staff. He gives little direction and leaves the staff wondering what he wants with regard to goals and objectives. Sometimes, he might not know or he might think that he is allowing his staff to take charge. However, the effect is often inefficient and ineffective if the staff "guesses" wrong and must waste time and effort redoing a project.

The Fault Finder
The fault finder is similar to the micromanager and some people consider this type of manager to be a subset of that category. The fault finding boss is usually very critical and looks for what's wrong most of the time and gives little or no credit for what's right. This type of boss can demoralize the staff quickly. He or she might look for the smallest mistake to point out, possibly overlooking a generally excellent job. This might be because his own level of competency is limited and he cannot judge the project on anything more than the smallest details or it might be his character. Whatever the reason, after a while, the staff will often lose their motivation to do a good job because it is almost never recognized. This, in turn, can make the fault finder even more negative.

The Indecisive Manager
The indecisive manager cannot make up his mind what he wants. As a result, he either gives little or no direction (similar to the hands off manager) or he keeps changing his mind. The indecisive manager is often insecure or he might be inexperienced. Possibly, he was thrown into his position with little or no training and he is not really competent for his job. The result is that he will often frustrate the staff with changes in direction or goals for a project, wasting time and effort.

The Boss who Takes All the Credit
The boss who takes all the credit for your ideas and your work, giving you little or no credit, is often a manipulative and insecure person. If he was not insecure about his own position, he would be generous enough to give you credit. He is often the boss who that will go to his superiors, without your knowledge, and claim responsibiliity for your ideas.

The Bully
Bullies are one of the most difficult types of bosses to deal with on the job. Often, they know that they're bullying the staff and either they don't care or they think that this is an effective way to get people to do their jobs or they just don't know any other way. These types of bosses are usually insecure and angry in general. They might not act this way at home with their spouses because their spouses might not put up with it and they might be very accommodating with their own superiors, but when they come to the office, they enjoy having power over their staff. They might yell or scream, demean people in staff meetings or be hyper critical. The bully gets off on power and control. Just like any other bully, like the schoolyard bully, there's often a scared person underneath it all who is hiding his fear by bullying his subordinates around.

Also see article: HR, It's Time to Show Bullies the Exit

The Sexual Harasser
Sexual harassment is a big topic. It can take many forms. It can range from inappropriate comments to be a "quid pro quo" situation where your manager offers you a raise or a promotion if you have sex with him. If you are being sexually harassed by your manager and if you work for a large company, you can speak with your Equal Employment Opportunity Officer to get help. Sexual harassment is against the law and it often does not stop unless you take steps--whatever steps you decide to take. If you're in a small company, you can go to your local, State or Federal EEOC agency to get help. Only you can decide the best course of action for your particular situation, but you should educate yourself as to your options. Go to your local, State or Federal EEOC website to get information. You might decide to leave, if that's an option for you.

I'm sure you can think of other types of difficult bosses.

How to Handle the Difficult Boss
Once again, you know your situation best. Other than the "sexual harasser" and "the bully" who might require you to go above his head or outside your company for help, if you think that your manager doesn't realize the effect he or she is having on you, consider whether this is someone that you can talk to privately to discuss the situation. If you think your manager would be open to it, ask him or her for a convenient time when you can talk privately. I'm stressing "privately" because a public confrontation is usually a bad idea. It might make you feel good at the time, but the repercussions are usually bad. First, your manager will be humiliated and won't hear what you have to say. Second, you'll be seen as someone who doesn't know how to handle difficult situations. Third, you might get fired.

Assuming that your manager is open to it and schedules a time for you, organize your thoughts before the meeting by writing down what you want to discuss. You don't have to discuss every time and every situation. This would probably not be effective. However, a few examples would suffice. Also, rather than just focusing on what's wrong (like the critical boss), try to find some things you think are positive, if you can. In addition, if you have some suggestions as to how the situation might improve, talk about them, once again, if you think your manager would be receptive to it.

If you think that speaking to your manager might make things worse because he or she cannot tolerate hearing any complaints, then you need to decide how to proceed. Is there a Human Resources Department? Do you have confidence in them? Do they have any authority or power to change the situation? Are there other colleagues who are experiencing the same problems with this manager? In certain situations, it might be better to go as a group rather than your going alone. However, in other situations, you might be perceived as "a troublemaker" if it gets out that you're the one who organized people. So, once again, you must use your judgement.

There are some situations with difficult bosses that are not likely to be improved for a variety of reasons. One might be that this is the culture of the particular workplace where you are and these problems go to the top. Another might be that your boss is the head or the owner of the company and he feels that he can do whatever he wants. Another reason might be that talking it out with an insecure or angry boss or with his boss or the Human Resources Dept. could make things worse. Your boss might never trust you again and might try to take steps to get you fired.

It's important for you to be able to "read" the particular situation that you're in and decide if it's worth it to stay or if you should leave. There might be particular reasons why you're staying for a while--maybe you're close to retirement or the job market is not good or you know you'll need to take Family Medical Leave soon and you won't get it immediately at a new company. There can be so many different reasons. That's why it's a very personal and individual decision.

One important factor to consider is how this boss or this job is affecting your self esteem and overall well being. If you feel that working under your particular circumstance is having a detrimental effect on your self worth or affecting your relationships at home because you come home stressed out and upset on most days, then it might be worthwhile to start looking for another job.

Hopefully, your encounters with difficult bosses will be few and far between in a long, successful career. However, if you feel that you are stuck and need support on how to deal with a difficult boss, you might consider going to a licensed mental health professional who is experienced in this area and who can help you to sort out your feelings and options and strategize on what to do.

And if, by chance, you recognize yourself as being a manager in one of the categories discussed in this post and you want to change your behavior for yourself as well as your staff, you can benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional. More and more, companies are less willing to tolerate managers who have poor interpersonal skills, so you, your company, and your staff could benefit from your getting help.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, and EMDR therapist. 

One of my specialities is helping clients to deal with career and workplace issues.

To find out more about me, visit my web site: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me.

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